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- Mid Autumn Festival
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The Mid-Autumn Festival, or Zhongqiu Festival, is one of the four major traditional festivals of China, together with the Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar when the moon is considered to be at its fullest and brightest. Because moon cakes are consumed during the festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also commonly called the Moon Cake Festival.
Legend has it that a very long time ago, many people died of hunger and thirst because there were 10 suns in the sky. One day, the archer Hou Yi was sent to earth by the King of Heaven to save the people. Hou Yi used his bow and arrows and shot down nine of the suns, leaving only one in the sky. The people were saved, and they regarded Hou Yi as a hero. Then, Hou Yi fell in love with a beautiful lady named Chang’e; they wanted to be immortal so that they could live together forever. One day, the Queen of Heaven rewarded Hou Yi with a bottle of elixir, but it was only enough to be effective for one person. He didn’t want to be immortal alone, so he asked Chang’e to keep it for him. A man named Feng Meng found out about this, so he killed Hou Yi and went to his house to force Chang’e to give him the elixir. Learning of her husband’s death and that she could not defeat Feng Meng, Chang’e sadly drank the elixir herself, becoming immortal, and flew higher and higher until finally stopping on the moon. Ever since, Chang’e has remained on the moon alone while missing her husband.
Mid-Autumn mooncakes are an essential part of the festival. In the past, every household prepared mooncakes at home and ate them during the festival. Nowadays, because the preparation process is labor-intensive and they are abundantly available at markets, fewer people make their own mooncakes at home and instead purchase them from the stores and markets. The pastries are considered the symbol of wholeness and togetherness, representing people’s wishes for blessings and unity of the family.
A typical mooncake is round-shaped like the full moon about three inches in diameter and two inches in thickness. The golden-brown crust is thin and tender, and rich fillings are wrapped inside. There are many various kinds of fillings, but the most common are red bean paste, lotus seed paste, minced meat, nuts, Chinese dates, almonds, orange peel paste, ham, and/or cooked salty egg yolk. Modern versions of the pastries sometimes include fruit jam, green tea powder, and edible bird's nest. Mooncakes are usually accompanied by tea.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is second only to the Spring Festival in terms of the time most important for family reunions every year. On this day, people from all around China migrate home to meet see their families and enjoy dinner together. After dinner, they will leave the house to sit at an outside table or climb to a higher spot of the building to enjoy the full moon and chat leisurely with each other. Then the mooncakes, fruits, and some other snacks are served. Many also walk outside to public squares and parks to watch special event performances. One popular activity involves making or purchasing Mid-Autumn lanterns of different shapes and sizes and letting them float on the river as a wish for blessings.
The celebration activities also vary by different areas in China. For example, in Guangzhou, the bustling lantern show is the biggest attraction for the local people. At the show, numerous lanterns of varied shapes and sizes are lit, forming a beautiful scene below the moon. In the Zhejiang Province, many gather by the Qiantang River to watch the roaring waves of the magnificent flood tide.
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